Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Santa Claus Machines

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Make: Holiday Gift Guide 2009: Santa Claus Machines


Santa’s got the coolest tools. How else could he and his elves build all those gifts in time? Now, thanks to custom fabrication services, we can all get access to the Santa Claus Machines. From bespoke action figures, to interplanetary terrain models, from one-of-a-kind sneakers, to tailor-made machine parts, there has never been a better time to harness advanced fabrication tools to build objects of your own design! In this gift guide, we’ll look at some of the leaders in the Santa Claus Machine revolution.




Big Blue Saw
If your gift plans call for something sturdier than wood or acrylic, you may need to move beyond laser cutters into a full-blown CNC machine shop. Enter Big Blue Saw. They have an intuitive browser-based CAD program where you can design your part, and then choose your material (aluminum, steel, etc.) and thickness. They’ll fire up their water-jet machines, and in no time you’ll have that rolled steel stocking stuffer in your hands.

Shapeways is a 3D printing service for all skill levels. You can customize pre-designed objects, such as napkin rings, stamps and cuff-links, or create 3D models from scratch and have them turned into real objects. They can be printed in a variety of materials, including bronze infused stainless steel.

LEGO Design byME
The idea of creating your own LEGO kit, complete with box and printed instructions, is almost too awesome to imagine. While more expensive than buying the bricks individually, there is no denying that a one-of-a-kind boxed set will warm the hearts of any kid or adult fan of LEGO on your list. Making a set starts with a free software download. Build your set in the LEGO Digital Designer software, and then send the design to be packed by hand in the factory with just a few button clicks.



Space Model Systems terrain models (from $64.95)
For all the space geeks on your shopping list, consider a hand-cast, hand-painted terrain model from Space Model Systems. (Extra credit: Trekkies will appreciate that these are the work of legendary designer Rick Sternbach.) These beautiful wall-hanging models are generated on a rapid prototyping system from exploratory spacecraft data, such as from the Mars Global Surveyor.


Photomake laser-cut designs (Ponoko, starting at $12)
The Photomake service allows you to go directly from a sketch to a laser-cut object, bypassing CAD or drawing software entirely!


Herobuilders (Custom Action Figure, $375 for the first one, $39.95 per copy)
Why not get a custom-made action figure for that hero on your list?



Personal handwritten font (fontcapture, free)
Even though my handwriting is terrible, there’s something irresistible about creating a font from my chicken scratch. Maybe it’s just the fact of how easy it is to do with this service. Print a template. Write in each letter, number, and punctuation. Scan. Upload. Download your font. Amazing.

(photo by Jeff Kaizer aka mightyOhm)

Printed circuit boards (BatchPCB)
You can translate your prototyped circuit designs from a breadboarded mess into a sleek PCB for much less than you might imagine. By ganging together multiple orders, BatchPCB can drop the cost to below $20 for a small board with a turnaround time of about two weeks.


World of Warcraft models (FigurePrints, $129.95)
I can think of a few people (my sister Silvia, her husband, and kids, to name a few) who’d love a statue of their World of Warcraft character. But none of them look away from their monitors long enough to appreciate it! FigurePrints takes your exact in-game character and prints it on a full-color rapid prototyping machine.



Custom computer keyboard (Datamancer, starting at $1200)
Has a design conscious friend been particularly nice this year? Consider having a gorgeous keyboard made for them. Do they need it? Maybe not. Will they love it? Certainly.




Custom sneakers
Vans, $60
Nike, $120
Puma, $110
Designing sneakers is a lot of fun with these browser-based tools. It takes restraint to keep your colorways from getting out of hand. Spoil the sneaker-freaker on your list with a never-before-seen pair of kicks.

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John Edgar Park likes to make things and tell people about it. He builds project for Adafruit Industries. You can find him at and twitter/IG @johnedgarpark

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